SodaStream CEO Goes From Fizz to Buzz With Cannabis Investments

Daniel Birnbaum taking stake in Seedo and joins investor group in Cannbit

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Seedo’s 'indoor growing machine'
Seedo’s 'indoor growing machine'Credit: Zohar Levi

Daniel Birnbaum, the Soda Stream CEO who led his company to a $3.2 billion buyout by PepsiCo, is taking an interest in effervescence of a different kind: He will be investing 2 million shekels ($550,000) in the Israeli cannabis-tech company Seedo and joining its board of directors.

Seedo, based in Yokneam and traded on the over-the-counter market in the United States, has developed technology to automate and control indoor growing of cannabis and other herbs and vegetables – “indoor growing machine” that looks something like a mini-refrigerator.

As the company explains it, its hermetically sealed systems uses artificial intelligence to analyze the plant’s development and optimize growing conditions to generate high yields of lab grade, pesticide-free product.

Seedo has also launched a cloud-based mobile and desktop application, enabling remote monitoring and control of the growing process and technical support for customers.

Birnbaum’s joining the Seedo board is part of a trend by Israel’s cannabis industry to recruit well-known names as January’s decision by the government to allow medical-marijuana exports is widely expected to usher in an era of growth and opportunity.

In September InterCure, a holding company of small medical firms, named Ehud Barak as its chairman and last month announced that Maj. Gen. (ret.) Nitzan Alon would become CEO of its Canndoc marijuana-growing unit subsidiary. Ex-Israel Air Force chief Ido Nechustan was named chairman of CannAssure Therapeutics, a grower, in January.

FILE PHOTO: Daniel Birnbaum, CEO of SodaStream, in Tel Aviv, Israel, August 20, 2018Credit: \ Amir Cohen/ REUTERS

Birnbaum made his reputation at SodaStream, maker of carbonated-drink machines for home use, after he came on as CEO in 2007. He led the company through a period of rapid growth while establishing it as a worldwide brand once touted by Scarlett Johansson. By the time PepsiCo acquired it, the company employed 3,000 people and had annual sales of nearly $600 million in 46 countries.

He remains head of the company as a unit of PepsiCo.

Seedo isn’t Birnbaum’s first marijuana-related investment. Earlier this month Cannbit Pharmaceuticals, a medical cannabis grower traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, reported that Birnbam was part of an investor group led by Barak Rosen that had taken control of the company. Cannbit specializes is edible cannabis used in food and beverages.

Zohar Levy, Seedo’s CEO, said Birnbaum’s joining the company would help it expand to new markets. The global cannabis market is growing quickly, among the growing recognition of its unique benefits.

“The system we’ve developed streamlines and accelerates the growing process, mainly in countries where the climate doesn’t give growers continuous, quality growth, while providing a solution to increasing demand,” Levy said.

In what it said was its first pre-sale of its home-growing systems, Seedo delivered 50 machines last November to customers in California. They are the first of 3,000 systems the company expects to be operational by the end of the second quarter of 2019.

Others to have recently joined Seedo’s board are the Israeli attorney Pninat Yanay and Dr. Jendayi Frazer, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

As of January, the company has raised $6.5 million in debt and equity financing.